Thoughts on the subject of cinema from just another primate on the planet.

So you want to watch a comedic short subject.


Here we have the inveterate classic film junkie, the original TCM nerd [insert your name here]. They’ve just finished watching Mr. Blanding’s Builds his Dream House and it looks like there’s going to be a good break until the next feature. They should probably get up and stretch their legs, make a healthy snack, brew a pot of coffee, something useful. But what’s this? A Warner Bros live-action short? Huh, and it’s about a married couple looking to get a house. Time to stay put.

Here we have the inveterate smoker, the inveterate incurable gambler, the original hard luck kid, Joe McDoakes, the featured character in many a “So You Want to…” short. In this enjoyable 1948 comic tale from Richard Bare, we learn the trials and tribulations of building a house.
Portrayed by George O’Hanlon (say, that voice is awfully familiar), Joe is encouraged by his wife Alice (Jane Harker) to build them a house, for no money down, in order to solve their eviction problem. 04McDoakesAlice.jpg
Enter Happy Jack the Laughing Irishman. Boy does he have a deal for Joe. All he has to do is get loan. Sure enough, the loan manager has just the loan for him. All he has to do is get a completion bond.
While filling out the necessary paperwork at the office, Joe’s pal Homer (played by the great Clifton Young1) is delighted to go out of his way to help out.
Sure enough, the appraiser that Homer attempts to talk up leaves with an even lower opinion of Joe’s property. Eventually Joe finally gets the wheels of construction turning, only to have them come to a grinding halt thanks to the building inspector. Not a problem buddy boy, Homer’s got a solution. A little trip to the drug store to buy a kit home, a little signature from Homer as the guarantor on the mortgage, and sure enough, Joe and Alice finally have their dream home.
Enter our trusty narrator (Art Gilmore, the voice of many a McDoakes caper), who asks Joe to give us a little tour. Sure there were a few glitches putting the house together.
Never mind, all seems well enough and good as Joe settles down for some breakfast with his wife… and new housemate Homer.
Looks like poor ol' Joe is gonna to be stuck in this situation for a while.

Sure the comedy is broad and the visual gags are easy, but the Joe McDoakes shorts are great light entertainment. If you’re not expecting taut Wilder-Diamond type dialog, Chuck Jones comic stylization, or Tati’s expert physicality, So You Want to… is a very gratifying series. It easily gives those of us born after that era a great glimpse into the concerns and foibles of the Greatest Generation just as much as any Pathé newsreel or travelogue would.

Should any of this sound intriguing to you, I would definitely check out some of Joe’s further adventures2. Richard L. Bare does a fine job of writing and directing. From the initial So You Want to Give Up Smoking (made as an exercise for Mr. Bare’s film class) to So Your Wife Wants to Work (gasp!), there are quite a few gems. So You Want to Be A Detective is a terrific send-up of the private eye genre in general and the POV goofiness of rival MGM’s Lady in the Lake specifically. Other fine examples include So You’re Going on Vacation, So You Want to Be a Gambler, and So You Want to be on the Radio (Hey! I resemble that remark!).

  1. The unfortunate Mr. Young also had a role in my 2nd favorite San Francisco film, Dark Passage.

  2. You can shake the internet for various installments, or if Joe McDoakes is definitely in your wheelhouse, all of them are collected on six Warner DVD-Rs. The transfers and digitization are just fine.

I would like to offer a big thanks to @NitrateDiva for instigating this whole TCM Discoveries Blogathon. There are already lot of fine submissions posted, and I am especially looking forward to Cinema Gadfly's contribution for M. It's probably been at least 7 years since I saw So You Want to Build a House on TCM, but the "flannel cakes and cottonseed oil" bit has stuck with me ever since.
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